Thursday, June 23, 2022

Rosa's Song, a review - 6.23.22

When you think back to your childhood, what are the things that made you truly happy?  Perhaps at the top of the list would be good friends and a strong imagination.  For young Jae, these are the things that keep him going after immigrating to a new country.  And it's within this shared experience, other children may relate and then learn from young Jae.

Rosa's Song
written by Helena Ku Rhee
Pascal Campion
published by Random House Studio

The story starts out, "Jae was new to the country, the city, the building."  He misses the comforts of his home and is sad without all that is familiar to him.  It's after his mom suggests he meets other children in the building and he meets Rosa and her parrot, Pollito.  Rosa helps Jae open up his imagination and see things with fresh eyes and a new perspective.  Pollito's song brings a smile to Jae's face and makes his heart happy.  But suddenly Rosa is gone and has left Pollito to Jae's keeping.  Although Jae is sad, it's through Pollito's song and the gifts of imagination that Rosa left that allow Jae to open his heart and meet new friends.

The story ends with a note from the author about the immigration experience and the transience it can bring, whether due to financial situations or immigration status.  Friendships can be disrupted, which is hard for young children to understand.  Author Helena Ku Rhee's previous collaboration with illustrator Pascal Campion, The Paper Kingdom, is similar to this one as it helps children understand and value all experiences that humans may experience.

I love the possibilities of using this book with young children.  First of all, the discussions about imagination would be so powerful.  I would love to hear children's ideas on how using their imagination is helpful to them.  Look deeper at Campion's illustrations - how did Rosa and Jae use things around them as a tool for play?  The theme of friendship is also important in this story.  How did Rosa's friendship leave a lasting impact on Jae even after she left?  While the idea of immigration or moving may be new to some readers, for others this may be a powerful story that lets children feel seen and heard.

This is a beautiful book that I recommend being on your library shelves this fall.  Booklist had wonderful things to say too:
★ "Striking and raw…. Readers will share the sadness of Jae's loss, but only after seeing Rosa and Jae's joyful playing—a happiness that's distinct to childhood." —Booklist, starred review

More about the creators of this book:

Helena Ku Rhee grew up in Los Angeles, but has also lived in various parts of the U.S., Asia and Europe. She has a soft spot for small, stout animals and loves to travel far and wide across this beautiful planet, counting among her favorite journeys a camping trip in the Sahara Desert, a swim with elephants in Thailand and a horseback-riding tour of Easter Island. She is also the author of The Paper Kingdom, which was included on many year-end Best Books lists, including NPR, BookPage, Kirkus, Parents Magazine, the Los Angeles Public Library, and Amazon, among others. Helena works at a movie studio by day, and dreams up story ideas in her spare time. She currently lives in Los Angeles. Visit her at

Instagram: @helenakurhee

Twitter: @HelenaRhee

Pascal Campion is a prolific French-American illustrator and visual development artist whose clients include: DreamWorks Animation, Paramount Pictures, Disney Feature, Disney Toons, Cartoon Network, Hulu, and PBS. Working in the animation industry for over 15 years, he has steadily posted over 3,000 images of personal work to his "Sketches of the Day" project since 2005. He lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Follow him on Instagram @pascalcampionart or Twitter @pascalcampion.

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for the review copy!

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Before Music, a review - 06.22.22

Musical instruments - I bet we've all had the opportunity to play one at some time in our lives.  Maybe it was a school instrument - from the wooden sticks and blocks to the triangle to the recorder in music class.  Or maybe we tried our hand at an instrument as a child in band or orchestra.  I bet many of us have had the opportunity to see professionals play at a concert, or even in a worship choir.  But have you ever thought about where those instruments got their start?

Before Music by Annette Bay Pimentel
Before Music:
Where Instruments Come From
written by Annette Bay Pimentel
illustrated by Madison Safer
published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Author Annette Bay Pimentel explores that idea and take a look at some different instruments.  Each section starts with a narrative that begins with, "Before music..." and she tells us a little story about the early starts of an instrument.  In the following pages, the reader gets more information.  Maybe it's about the history of the instrument - and spoiler alert - an instrument did not usually start in the form we know it as.  Pimentel gives us the history behind the instrument and details perhaps the science behind it, or the creativity in its early beginnings, or how a person lent their talent to use this instrument in a new way.  Next, we see a variety of instruments that use a similar fashion of being played.  Some of these instruments are familiar, many are historical and are not used in the same way.  I took my time looking at the different instruments and where they were originally used.  Pimentel says early in the book, "humans are makers" and it is evident in the vast number of instruments included in this book!

Beautifully illustrated by Madison Safer, the bright illustrations done in watercolor, gouache, and colored pencils stand out on each page.  Another stand out is the size of the book - it stands at 14 1/2inches tall!  But with all of the information it covers, I love that there is more room on the page to tell and show the information.

The backmatter contains sources and information about how instruments are classified called organology (I would not have guessed that's what the word meant!).  And if the book has called you to play an instrument, well, there are some ideas for making your own in the backmatter!

I am grateful that author Annette Bay Pimentel agreed to answer some questions about her book.  Thanks, Annette!

1.  I love the perspective of thinking about how instruments got their start.  What gave you the idea to write from this perspective?
My kids play string instruments, and I always loved hearing our violin teacher talk about how violins are made. In fact, years ago I wrote a rhyming text about the natural materials in violins. But this book really took off when I attended a session about geography at the conference of the National Council of Social Studies. I started thinking about how each culture is connected to the ecosystem of a particular place. I realized that it's not just violins that have an interesting origin story. Every instrument starts with a creative person figuring out how to shape natural materials to make music. To me, the most awe-inspiring thing is that we humans, throughout the entire world and for even longer than we have records, have always made music with whatever is at hand.

2.  I'd love to know more about the research for this!  How did you find the information and then how did you decide to structure the writing?
I can't write or even research effectively until I have an idea of the structure I'm building. So I started by reading about organology, which is the science of classifying musical instruments. I already knew the Western classification system--string instruments, brass, woodwind, etc.--but I discovered that other cultures have classified musical instruments in startlingly different ways. The organization of my book is inspired by the classical Chinese system of organizing instruments by the material they're made of, and by Indian and Javanese systems that organize instruments by the action the musician takes to make music, plucking, rubbing, striking, or whirling, etc..

Once I had a framework for my idea, I started looking for instruments. I live near two universities, so I spent a lot of time in their libraries (thankfully most of the research was done before the libraries closed during the pandemic!), but I also used online databases of musical instruments. I spent a lot of time exploring The Grinnell College Musical Instrument Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Musical Instruments Collection. 

3.  There are lots of instruments mentioned in the book.  Which one would you like to play, if you had your choice?
I love the idea of making music by whirling stuff around. In fact, I was so intrigued by the idea that I bought both whirling pipes and a thunder tube. They're really fun to play, and I'm excited about sharing them with kids when I do author visits.

Thank you, Annette, for stopping by!

Would you like to add a copy of the book to your collection?  Annette and Abrams Books for Young Readers have generously donated a copy for giveaway.  Enter below for your chance to win!  Winner will be selected on June 29th.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

New graphic novels for readers! 6.08.22

Graphic novels are enjoyed by all readers and I'm glad to see so many for different ages and different genres/interests.  Here are some new ones that have caught my eye in the recent months for readers who are starting their independent reading journey!  

I Really Want a Bigger Piece by Harriet Ziefert     I Really Want to Be First! by Harriet Ziefert
A Really Bird Story series:
I Really Want a Bigger Piece!
I Really Want to Be First!
written by Harriet Ziefert
illustrated by Travis Foster
published by Red Comet Press
This series is written entirely in talk bubbles.  It does not have frames and boxes like graphic novels, but just getting used to talk bubbles is helpful for readers who are starting graphic novels.
This series introduces us to Really Bird - that's his name because he has REALLY big feelings.  In these first two books he REALLY wants to be first and have the biggest piece of pie.  In both books he argues with his friends in order to get what he wants.
On the one hand, young readers will relate to his big feelings.  On the other hand (the adult hand), I don't love how Really Bird doesn't always learn a lesson.  Even when what he wants can sound kind of snotty.  

Blippo and Beep by Sarah Weeks     Blippo and Beep by Sarah Weeks
Blippo & Beep and Blippo & Beep I Feel Funny
written by Sarah Weeks
illustrated by Joey Ellis
published by Penguin Workshop
Similar to the series above, this one does not have frames, but the entire story is told through talk bubbles.  Another great introduction to graphic novels for young readers.  Blippo and Beep are robot friends who are silly and show what friendship looks like.  Looking forward to more in this series.

Sir Ladybug (Sir Ladybug, #1)
Sir Ladybug
by Corey R. Tabor
published by Balzer and Bray
Corey Tabor is a master of crafting stories for young readers.  Whether they are early readers, picture books, and now, graphic novels.  Sir Ladybug is a fantastic new hero for young readers because while he may appear tough, it's with knowledge and logic he wins his battles!  With fantastic sidekicks in his herald (Pell, the roly-poly) and squire (Sterling, the snail), I am excited to have this new series on my shelf for young readers.

It's Owl Good by Renee Treml   Wise-Quackers by Renee Treml   Squeals on Wheels by Renee Treml   Bats What Friends are For by Renee Treml
The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea series
It's Owl Good
Squeals on Wheels
Bats What Friends Are For
by Renée Treml
published by Capstone
Stories that are full of friendship and puns, this series will delight young graphic novel readers.  Ollie the Owl and Bea the Bunny are self-conscientious of their perceived short-comings, but that's what friends are for, to make you feel good about each other and have fun!  Some solid lessons in each story.

Surviving the Wild by Remy Lai     Rainbow the Koala by Remy Lai
Surviving the Wild series
Star the Elephant
Rainbow the Koala
by Remy Lai
published by Henry Holt and Co
This series is based on actual accounts of animals who have survived different kind of environmental issues.  Star the elephant faced deforestation and Rainbow the koala was in a large forest fire.  While the accounts have been fictionalized, even young readers will see the dangers animals are facing in the wild.  With additional information in the backmatter including ways the reader can help the environment, these books are informative and interesting to read.

The Inflatables in Bad Air Day (The Inflatables #1)
The Inflatables in Bad Air Day
written by Beth Garrod and Jess Hitchman
illustrated by Chris Danger
published by Scholastic
Definitely a book to hand to your readers of the Bad Guys series.  The characters are pool inflatables that live at a water park.  When a new  wave pool opens up on the other side, they know they have to get over there and check out all of the new action.  It's goofy and has a lot of "butt" jokes to make younger readers laugh (for adult reviewers, there is just eye-rolling).
I do wish this one had been done in full color.  Not sure why the decision was made to keep it black and white.
Book #2 comes out later this summer.

And one UPCOMING one to have on your radar!

Mimi and the Cutie Catastrophe by Shauna J. Grant
Mimi and the Cutie Catastrophe
by Shauna J. Grant
published by Scholastic
publishes July 19th
Mimi and her magical plushie, Penelope, have some great and magical adventures.  But no matter what she does, Mimi is only seen as being "cute".  She does not want to be identified as cute, so she has Penelope magic her into different outfits so she is not seen as cute.  She tries out being a superhero, teacher, and a cool kid, but no matter what, it doesn't feel right.  Will she ever be ok with her own identity?
Definitely a new graphic novel series to know about since it features an awesome Black girl as the main character!

Yay for lots of new graphic novels!  I know these books are going to hook some readers!

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Hope Wins, a review - 6.07.22

Hope Wins: A Collection of Inspiring Stories for Young Readers
Hope Wins
A Collection of Inspiring Stories for Young Readers
edited by Dr. Rose Brock
published by Philomel Books

When I first heard about an upcoming book titled Hope Wins, I was intrigued and excited.  Because it feels like we really needed a book about hope right now.  I knew it as a collection of essays about the topic written by middle grade authors.  I was excited to read it and I couldn't wait to know more.  
I know living through the last two and a half years have left many of us clinging to the idea of hope.  But I know there are others who are clinging to it for other reasons.
Which made me think about the word hope.  Is there one singular definition for it?  Is there some way to define it or is it an idea to explain?  I think it may be a very personal idea and thought for each of us.  How I describe it is different than how you describe it.
And then I started reading the book.  I guess for some reason I thought all of the essays on hope were going to be pandemic focused.  Spoiler alert, they aren't.  And while the idea of hope is on my mind more than ever, it's not new.  I've had hope in my life for a long, long time, and it's changed over the decades.   And as each author pens their ideas on the subject, the reader discovers the ideas of hope are always different.  
- sometimes it's an idea that came from their past
- sometimes hope was tied to an event
- sometimes hope was because of a person
- sometimes it's born out of despair
- sometimes it's in the midst of joy
But every story is different and each one made me think a little bit more.  And as I ponder the subject, I think about the readers for this book.  The children growing up today need hope in a different way than I did at that age.  Their definition and idea for it is probably more profound than what I would have come up with at their age.  It's still a big idea.  I think these stories will help them understand it and maybe gain some healing they didn't even know they needed.

About the book (Goodreads summary):
In a collection of personal stories and essays, award-winning and bestselling artists from Matt de la Peña and Veera Hiranandani to Max Brallier and R.L. Stine write about how hope always wins, even in the darkest of times.

Where does hope live?

In your family?

In your community?

In your school?

In your heart?

From a family restaurant to a hot-dog shaped car, from an empty road on a moonlight night to a classroom holiday celebration, this anthology of personal stories from award-winning and bestselling authors, shows that hope can live everywhere, even--or especially--during the darkest of times.

No matter what happens: Hope wins.

Contributors include: Tom Angleberger, James Bird, Max Brallier, Julie Buxbaum, Pablo Cartaya, J.C. Cervantes, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Stuart Gibbs, Adam Gidwitz, Karina Yan Glaser, Veera Hiranandani, Hena Khan, Gordon Korman, Janae Marks, Sarah Mlynowski, Rex Ogle, James Ponti, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Ronald L.Smith, Christina Soontornvat, and R.L. Stine.

Books like these always have an editor.  Someone who finds the authors of the essays and puts them together.  This particular editor is Dr. Rose Brock.  I did not realize it, but before this book, she edited a book for teens called Hope Nation.  There is an introduction at the start of the book and I hope you read it.  It's in there that Dr. Brock talks about how proceeds from the book will help support the North Texas Teen Book Festival.  I'm glad to see a book festival in Texas that is supporting today's teens.  And don't miss the Nerdy post where Dr. Brock talks more about the book.

And let's take a moment to admire the gorgeous cover illustration by the immensely talented Vashti Harrison.  The muted colors and solemn girl on the cover have a calming and warm effect before even opening the pages of the book!

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for the review copy.